UFC flyweight Ian McCall is banged up, but that doesn't mitigate his desire to step back into the UFC Octagon.
The 31-year-old fighter has been out of commission since a January 2015 defeat against John Lineker at UFC 183, nursing a variety of injuries and attempting to get back to full strength. Speaking with Ariel Helwani on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour, McCall detailed his bumps and bruises, eventually conceding that, like it or not, fighting might not be in his future.
"Just to put it in perspective, I have two bulging discs in my neck and then I have the four-part surgery on my shoulder, I fractured and dislocated my elbow, I got three surgeries, two breaks (in my hand), and I’ve had an infection in this arm," McCall told Helwani. "So my arm doesn’t work so well. Like, right now, my hand’s kind of numb.
"I just have to be realistic. My body isn’t working very well. I do still train. I train every day, I teach every day. I still beat up on everybody. I just have to take it slow. I don’t know if my body can handle another training camp, because I train hard. Like everybody else, I train really hard. I also train very smart, but I just have a tendency to break. I’ve made peace with it – that I might never fight again – (but) do I want to fight? Of course. I want to fight. I would like nothing more than to fight, but I have to be realistic about it."
With a daughter and several business opportunities – including a newly launched podcast, Storytime with Uncle Creepy – on hand, McCall must balance what matters against what matters more, and right now, his personal life and his need to heal up is tipping the scales.
"I have a child. I have a life," McCall said. "My brain still works, so I’m just, you know, taking my time. If it takes until summer, if it takes until next year, if I never fight again, whatever. I’ve accomplished a lot. That’s a drug that is hard to come by, is performing in front of an audience like that. I want nothing more than that, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen."
While McCall has accepted this possibility, he mentioned the desire to right some perceived wrongs as a motivating factor to get back into fight shape and make the walk to the cage. McCall's UFC career kicked off with a draw against current flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson at UFC on FX 2. That fight, based on the format of the flyweight tournament it took place within, should have gone to a fourth round.
Since that fight, McCall never found his groove inside the cage, and that fact eats at him a bit as he attempts to gear up for one last push.
"Yeah, my whole UFC career doesn’t settle well with me," McCall said. "I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and injuries and mental screw-ups and whatever. Myself, along with the people close to me, know how good I am, and I just haven’t been able to show the world, really, besides my first fight in the UFC. That still wasn’t, obviously that fight doesn’t sit well with me."
During his time off, McCall's staying busy, working out, eating right, and helping teammates prepare for their own battles. Notably, McCall works closely with former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza – who faces Juliana Lima April 23 at UFC 197 – and he's liking the progress he sees with her overall game of late.
"I have to watch over Carla," McCall said. "She’s looking really good. Her wrestling and jiu-jitsu has always been good. Her kickboxing was the final piece to put together.
"Her punching power, she punched me the other day – in the body and in the head – and I remember kind of going, ‘Wow. OK. That didn’t feel good.’ She’s figuring it out. All wrestlers have a chance to punch hard, it’s just a lot of times hard for wrestlers to make it translate because they’re so heavy over the front foot with their shots and stuff. We’ve settled her more in her stance, her head work’s moving really well, her foot work...so you’re going to see a very evolved Carla in this next fight, and I’m excited."
Gold will be on the line in McCall's division at that same UFC 197 event, when Johnson faces challenger Henry Cejudo. While McCall has not faced Cejudo firsthand, he believes the fight will end as every flyweight title fight has in UFC history – with Johnson's hand raised in victory.
"Henry is great," McCall said. "He’s very good, but his boxing isn’t good enough to catch DJ, I don’t think, and he doesn’t seem to have the one-shot power to knock out DJ. Anyone can do that, but I don’t see it happening. Also, I don’t think he’s fast enough. Kind of the gap between his lack of speed and the technical deficiencies that he’ll have against someone like DJ is... I see DJ outworking him for five rounds. Who knows if he’ll get tired. I know he’s a hard worker, so he might not get tired, but I kind of see him getting picked apart. He is good, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think he’s champion-caliber.
"I don’t see anybody (who can beat Johnson). Who’s going to beat him? (UFC flyweight) Joe (Benavidez)? Joe’s going to be a bridesmaid for the rest of his life just like Urijah (Faber) or Chad (Mendes). All those guys are studs. All those guys are badasses, but they’re just not good enough to beat the champs. So who else would there be?"